Light Up the Dark

Light up the Dark

By Kimberly Phinney

There are two things we humans do when we truly realize the heaviness of life for the first time:

We run and duck and cover and drink and get really really busy because life is hard, unfortunate, and tragic.


We learn to live wide open and vulnerable and sober and we get busy living because life is hard, unfortunate, and tragic and because we believe that we can make it better.

I’m here to tell you I’ve done both. I’ve stood in the darkness and clutched to my addictions and fears, but I’ve also come into the light empty-handed and new with a set of eyes I never had before. Truly, it’s by the grace of God, I’m one of those wide-open, vulnerable people now. Those light-bearers are my tribe, and though at times I feel small and flawed, I know it’s where I belong.

And I believe it’s where we all belong.

From what I can tell, it’s all about living closed or living open. It’s a choice we all have, but it’s not an easy one. And once we make it, the days demand we make that choice again, again, and again. This is difficult because we all have two legs that make us think we’re faster than we really are, and we get into trouble. The truth is, no matter how far or how long or how fast our bodies may carry us in the marathon, we can’t outpace the very things we are desperate to escape.

And we are so good at fooling ourselves, that we’ve made an art-form out of shutting up and medicating. We can’t talk about the ugly stuff or the heavy stuff or the sad stuff, so we turn the television on instead. We drink the sixth beer of the night to relax. We say, “I’ll deal with it tomorrow” and know we never will. We scroll our newsfeeds until 2:00 a.m., alone. We take an extra Xanax when no one is looking or purchase another thing we can’t afford just so we can be worth something. We make a crude joke about the neighbor’s failing marriage because we are secretly terrified about our own. We yell at the waitress because she’s a waitress and we’re not. And we say, “Look, it could be a lot worse.”

But really, we are burying our heads so deep into the pit that we can no longer see the light because life is too heavy to bare. And why? Because it’s all going to stop one day, and yet it all matters to us so very much.

In our souls, we know the light. What we really want to do is have that hard conversation with our spouse because it matters. What we really want is to connect with the ones we love the very most instead of our 1,344 followers on social media. And we really want to be sober when we tuck our kids in at night and when we do the hard things because parenthood matters. We really want to show up for our neighbors and friends and community. We really want to be fully known and fully loved.

But we don’t know how. So we build walls… lots and lots of walls:

Walls of stuff.

Walls of addictions.

Walls of accolades.

Walls of resentment.

Walls of loneliness.

Walls of secrets.

Walls of shame.

And walls of fear.

And why? Because it’s all so heavy, and it’s so hard. But it’s what matters most.

And WE ALL KNOW THIS, but only some of us learn to dance with our darkness instead of running from its grip. And only a rare few are willing to tell about it. Because it’s one thing to dance in the dark, but it’s something else entirely different to shed a bright light on all of it for the world to see.

To really speak lightness, you have to contrast it against darkness. And you have to be brave. To know darkness, you have to have been there. And when you’ve been there, you have to be willing to say so. You have to say, “I’m an alcoholic, but I’m sober now.” Or “I destroyed my family with my destructive choices, but we are working on things.” Or, “I am depressed, and I need help.”

And the listeners need to say, “I’ve been there.” Or “Me too.” And “I love you anyway.” We have to be willing to be the people who stop running and demand that we all dance instead. We need to believe we can do hard things, as Glennon Melton Doyle of Momastery always says. We can and we should because it matters. Life matters. And, yes, it’s some heavy stuff.

Dr. Martin Luther King said a lot of important things that we all still talk about today, but something he said about lightness and darkness has always stuck around in my mind without any reminding. On humanity, he once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

So simple, and yet so hard and true. WE—the openhearted—can make all those scary and ugly things better. We can say, “Yes, yes, life is hard. And yes, I have made some huge mistakes. But life is good, and I am choosing lightness over the dark. And won’t you come with me?”

It all starts with the truth. It starts when we start talking. And it stops when we stop acting… and pretending… and competing. It stops when we let go of our own fractured egos long enough to reach for someone else’s hand and say, “Let’s dance.”

On the subject of life and light and dark, Dr. Brene Brown writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

So let us be brave, my love.

And let us learn to dance and love and light up the dark.

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